apartment progress: a couch complete.

June 16, 2021

When I decided to recover our couch in engineer stripe denim, I did not list among my reasons its ability to withstand human excrement, but here we are. In this little loveseat’s first 12 hours home, I was scrubbing a tomato sauce splatter from its seat. Please don’t picture me trilling merrily and tousling the hair of the perpetrator while I patiently coaxed out the sauce. I cursed and yelled and surely had my family at least briefly believing I’d finally lost it. With each rub of the fabric, the indigo stripes bled a bit more into the white. Twenty-four hours after that, I was attacking a series of soy sauce fingerprints. By the time of the poop incident later that night, there was nothing left to do but laugh (and scrub some more).

I have three small children and the only spot for our only couch is next to the dining table. I knew what I was getting into. Indeed, I explicitly asked the gentleman who reupholstered the couch not to add stain protector. The goal was for an old loveseat to be restored to its former glory, but I wanted to do that without adding anything in the way of extraneous toxins or material fussiness. What’s harder-wearing than denim? What’s more fitting for a workhorse of a couch?

The worst of the stains are now mostly lifted and if I squint I can’t see the spots where I made the fabric bleed. To save myself from further scrubbing and my children from further couch-related trauma, I sewed sloppy seams along the edges of leftover yardage and made a simple seat cover. It’s an extra layer to spread over the seat while we’re eating dinner or serving popcorn to humans who can’t help but swipe their greasy fingers on the fabric below them. When we watch a movie and a piece of errant chocolate slips through the cracks of our fingers and melts below the heat of our thighs, it’ll be there to catch it. And if it’s not? We’ll chalk it up to being part of the story.

Over time the couch will continue to transform. The indigo stripes will continue to melt into the white ones. There will be spots that wear and spots that don’t and that’s the beauty of denim isn’t it? We’re not even supposed to wash our jeans. We embrace every mysterious stain on our vintage Wranglers. We wear our indigo long past the time when whiskers and whispers of movement appear etched in the fabric. (We buy new denim that’s been tumbled with stones and ripped apart before we even wear it.) When there’s a tear we don’t want, we patch it.

And so it goes with denim couches: Every patch tells a story. It only gets better with age. Shit happens.

For the curious:

+ If you want to know more about why I chose not to add a spray stain protector, this Earth Justice explainer on PFAS chemicals is a good place to start. (This piece on PFAS in fabric protection sprays from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is helpful, too.) There have been some recent industry improvements, including removal of PFAS from Scotchgard products, but I feel like avoiding them altogether is the safest route to take, poop be damned.

+ If you’re local and in the market to hire a reupholsterer, don’t hesitate to be in touch for more information. I had a terrific experience and am happy to pass along the contact information.

+ Details on fabric choice and past upholstery history.

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24 Comments

  • Reply Gabrielle June 16, 2021 at 3:51 pm

    Maybe a wax based fabric protector like you use to waterproof canvas backpacks would be helpful?
    Or possibly a meditation on embracing the chaotic nature of the universe and the people within it. Pick whichever is more helpful.

    1
    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2021 at 3:52 pm

      already picked the latter!

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  • Reply Naomi London June 16, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    Your reupholstered love seat looks fabulous and is the perfect proportion to the space.
    Really like your choice of fabric… I’ve had the SAME experience with stains on my (gasp) off white sofa.

    • Reply Denise June 16, 2021 at 7:41 pm

      Your loveseat looks just lovely

  • Reply Erin June 16, 2021 at 5:11 pm

    Curious about the rusty(?) box under the love seat? Also, thanks for this share about losing yer cool.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2021 at 5:25 pm

      it’s a rusty old pretzel rod box (!?!) i bought years ago to keep potting soil and gardening supplies wrangled in our tiny apartment. still using it for that stuff!

    • Reply Jackie June 17, 2021 at 1:57 am

      We are empty nesters. Bought our dream lounge sat in our silent empty house. Now have fun with noisey sticky grandchildren on the jumping all over the couch.

      1
  • Reply Jenny June 16, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    Hi Erin! This turned out so well. I really love the pillows on the love seat. Did you purchase covers or make your own?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2021 at 5:45 pm

      Thanks so much! The pillow covers are many years old. The striped is definitely from Fog Linen from a moment when they sold covers and the other two I found, I think, at Muji, but I must have ripped out the tags!

      1
  • Reply Joyce June 16, 2021 at 6:41 pm

    Reminds me of the day after, the day after (!) we got a new-to-us car and my child vomited everywhere. It smelled for so long, despite carseat scrubbing. To this day (knock on wood) it’s the only time he has ever gotten car sick. Gotta love kids for keeping it real 🙂 Beautiful couch!

    1
  • Reply Anna June 16, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    I’m in Brooklyn and would love the name of your upholsterer!

    The first spots are the hardest – I read somewhere something to the effect that the first spot is a disaster, the second is terrible and the third is patina. Sounds like it only took a day for you to make your way to the patina…

    1
    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2021 at 9:14 pm

      I worked with Andres Vasquez! He doesn’t have a website, but I can pass along his cell if you shoot me an email!

  • Reply Keri June 17, 2021 at 8:36 am

    Hydrogen peroxide is your best friend! It lifts tough stains to the surface. Just pour and dab until the stain is gone. Beautiful sofa, stains and all. 🙂

  • Reply Maureen Ryan June 17, 2021 at 9:56 am

    I’d love the contact information for Andres Vasquez. I’m in Manhattan and would love to be able to afford to create slip overs for our Crate & Barrel sofa. They don’t make them for this older model.

    Thank you for your fantastic website. I read it every day there is a new post and your eye for great articles that I wouldn’t read is much appreciated. Your writing about your journey through life is so additive and your visual acumen is inspiring. Keep on doing.

    1
    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 17, 2021 at 4:05 pm

      Thanks so much, Maureen! Very happy to pass along his information—just shoot me an email!

  • Reply Chris June 17, 2021 at 12:17 pm

    This post filled my heart. When I was growing up, we used to have a little ceremony releasing our newly made things into the chaos of the house. My mom made me a homemade quilt that took her years to make and I received it as a Christmas gift. That night we put it on my bed and ate leftover pie sitting on the quilt; acknowledging we were putting it at risk of spills and stains. From that point forward, any stains were just part of its story and it got plenty of them. Obviously, we did our best to keep things stain free but our little ceremony allowed us a time to let go of keeping things perfect and start really using the things we had.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 17, 2021 at 4:06 pm

      oh man! tucking this away for next time i have the urge to scream.

      2
  • Reply Lauren June 17, 2021 at 4:40 pm

    With two pets and a child we got a leather sofa and it has been one of the best decisions we’ve made (I know your family is vegetarian so it might not work for you). Our very old wooden table is looking worse for ware from wiping at the same spot where said child sits but I’m trying to embrace the lived in (loved in?)/change is inevitable mindset as best I can.

    1
  • Reply Doe June 17, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    As you know, we have a wee maple table in the family room with three initials carved into it by our eldest wee fellow. Every time I dust it, I remind myself to ask him to carve in the next three…

  • Reply Ramona June 17, 2021 at 6:22 pm

    It turned out lovely!

  • Reply Sara June 18, 2021 at 10:32 am

    It’s BEAUTIFUL! I just used a denim remnant to patch my son’s pants for what felt like the fortieth time and it’s holding and aging so well. It is made to weather even our messy rambunctious kids. Amen. And the number of times my 3 cherubs and one husband have thought I’ve lost it over the past year ….. You’re in good company

    Let that baby age … I imagine it will be even more beautiful and beloved just like our favorite jeans.

    1
  • Reply Joanna June 18, 2021 at 11:17 am

    Speaking of denim, I love your jeans! May I ask where you got them??

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 18, 2021 at 12:14 pm

      they’re 1940s wranglers i bought at a vintage shop in the city!

  • Reply BRI June 28, 2021 at 11:23 am

    Hi, I appreciate your self honesty. Most people who put as much attention and care into a project would react that way. It’s satisfying getting something just right and to have it wrecked immediately is sad. I meditate and it’s never just right even as that is just right. Somehow being happy with this, with the idea of success as little as sitting down: making it to sitting down, I don’t mind too much about anything else I achieve, as it is so difficult, this habit of training the mind to be present and eventually peaceful, I find for myself.

    2
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